(WASHINGTON) — White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s dramatic testimony this week has provided not only a new account of the actions of then-President Donald Trump and chief of staff Mark Meadows before and on Jan. 6, 2021, but it’s also raised questions about where the House select committee’s investigation will go next, including concerning Trump’s potential legal liability.
In a nearly two-hour hearing Tuesday, Hutchinson painted a picture of Trump, who, after speaking at his “Save America” rally on the Ellipse, insisted on being taken to the Capitol as Congress met to certify electoral votes, demanding to join his supporters, she said, despite having been told some were armed with weapons.
“I was in the vicinity of a conversation where I overheard the president say something to the effect of, you know, “I don’t effing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let my people in,” Trump said, according to Hutchinson. “They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in.”
Trump rushed to attack her credibility — but appeared to mostly dispute — not whether he knew the mob attacking the Capitol was armed — but whether, in a rage, he had grabbed the steering wheel of his presidential SUV or in anger had thrown his lunch against the White House dining room wall.
In a statement Wednesday, her lawyer said Hutchinson stands by all the testimony she gave under oath Tuesday.
The committee followed up Wednesday on Hutchinson’s account of what Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone said at the time, to her and to others, with a subpoena — and his team is negotiating the ultimate scope of the order for future testimony, sources told ABC News.
Addressing the last-minute nature of the Hutchinson hearing, Jan. 6 committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Wednesday it was “critical” for the American public to hear her testimony “immediately,” adding that threats of witness intimidation, as well as the potential for her story to inspire others to come forward, were “an important part of our calculus.”
“We want to let people know that may be signaling or trying to influence witness testimony that we take that very seriously, that we will confront that, and if necessary, we will refer any kind of intimidation to the Justice Department,” Schiff said on “GMA3.” “We also want to be able to use this information to encourage other witnesses to come forward.”
Sources tell ABC News that Hutchinson was one of the witnesses who told the Jan. 6 committee she was pressured by allies of Donald Trump to protect the former president.
The committee and Hutchinson herself have not publicly confirmed this reporting.
How will Trump counsel Cipollone testify?
Cipollone is evaluating the subpoena and his team is negotiating with the committee on the parameters surrounding an eventual closed-door deposition, sources close to him told ABC News. They say they have an expectation that he and the committee will reach an agreement on the terms by the requested deposition date of next Wednesday, July 6, though sources emphasize the fluid nature of the talks.
Committee investigators are expected to ask Cipollone will be asked about his interactions with Trump on Jan. 6, knowledge of attempts from former top DOJ official Jeffrey Clark — whom Trump wanted to install as attorney general — to use the powers of the Justice Department to attempt to overturn the election, and interactions with former Trump election lawyer John Eastman and members of Congress after the election.
The information shared with the committee could be impacted by a number of factors, sources familiar with the deliberations said. That includes whether Trump’s presence in any of the past meetings could result in potential claims of executive privilege, or whether Cipollone could invoke attorney-client privilege on certain matters as the top lawyer in the White House.
A lawyer familiar with Cipollone’s deliberations told ABC News Wednesday, in response to the committee’s announcement: “Of course a subpoena was necessary before the former White House counsel could even consider transcribed testimony before the committee,” and that now it will “be evaluated as to matters of privilege that might be appropriate.”
Cipollone and former deputy White House counsel, Pat Philbin, who was also part of a Jan. 3, 2021, Oval Office meeting, during which Trump insisted on replacing then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with Clark, sat for an informal interview with committee investigators in April — but members are eager to speak with Cipollone again after Hutchinson described firsthand accounts of what she said were his warnings.
Hutchinson told the committee that on the morning of Jan. 6, before Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, Cipollone was adamant that Trump shouldn’t go to the Capitol after his speech at the rally on the Ellipse.
“We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” she said Cipollone warned her at the time.
She also recalled Cipollone rushing into Meadows’ office in the West Wing as rioters breached the building.
“I remember Pat saying something to the effect of ‘Mark, we need to do something more. They’re literally calling for the vice president to be f—— hung,'” Hutchinson said in taped testimony.
She said that Meadows replied, “You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” to which Cipollone said, according to Hutchinson, “Mark, something needs to be done, or people are going to die and the blood’s gonna be on your f—— hands.”
Chairman Bennie Thompson said the committee has also requested to speak with Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who took back her apparent offer to speak with the committee this week when her attorney sent a letter to the committee saying he wants “a better justification for why Mrs. Thomas’s testimony is relevant.”
Thomas urged Arizona lawmakers in emails obtained by ABC News to help reverse Biden’s victory — suggesting that the conservative activist played a larger role in pushing to overturn the election than was previously publicly known.
What happened inside Trump’s SUV?
A secondhand account Hutchinson gave Tuesday was a shocking story about how Trump allegedly reached for the steering wheel in trying to get to the Capitol after his Ellipse speech — and prompted immediate pushback.
Hutchinson recalled being told how Trump turned “irate” as he was driven away from the Ellipse after being told by his security that he could not go to the Capitol with his supporters.
Though she was not in the SUV at the time, she said she heard the account from Tony Ornato, a senior Secret Service official who was at the time White House deputy chief of staff for operations, when everyone was back at the White House. Also in the room was Bobby Engel, the head of Trump’s security detail who was in the SUV with Trump and, according to Hutchinson, did not speak up to dispute any of Ornato’s account.
“The president said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the effing president, take me up to the Capitol now’ — to which Bobby responded, ‘Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing,'” she testified she was told. “The president reached up toward the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm and said, ‘Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We’re going back to the West Wing. We’re not going to the Capitol.’
“Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge toward Bobby Engel and when Mr. Ornato recounted this story to me, he motioned toward his clavicles,” she said.
In a rare statement after her testimony, the Secret Service reiterated that it had been cooperating with the House committee and intended to keep doing so, “including by responding on the record” to Hutchinson’s testimony. The agency issued another statement Wednesday saying that agents are prepared to give sworn testimony.
Two sources familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas that Trump had indeed requested to go to Capitol on Jan. 6 and that the Secret Service refused due to security concerns. One of those sources said that when the former president returned to his vehicle after his speech at the Ellipse and asked Engel if he could go to the Capitol, Engel responded by saying, essentially, that it was unwise. But sources pushed back against any allegation that Trump reached for the steering wheel or assaulted an agent.
A Jan. 6 committee aide told ABC News Wednesday, “The committee welcomes anyone who wishes to provide additional information under oath.”
How is Hutchinson’s boss Mark Meadows responding?
Cheney also asked Hutchinson whether Meadows himself ever indicated he was interested in a pardon, after she previously ticked off several GOP lawmakers in a taped deposition who Hutchinson said were in contact with the White House about “blanket pardons” after Jan. 6.
Each lawmaker named has denied the allegation.
“Mr. Meadows did seek that pardon,” she testified under Cheney’s questioning.
A Meadows spokesperson said he “never sought a pardon and never planned to,” but did not make clear in the short statement whether Meadows raised the possibility with colleagues or even informally entertained the idea of such an ask.
Cheney told “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl in an exclusive interview that she is “absolutely confident” in Hutchinson’s testimony and credibility.
ABC News’ Katherine Faulders, John Santucci and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.
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